Identity Lessons: Contemporary Writing About Learning to Be American

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In stories and poems that explore how our society shapes us, Identity Lessons features a wide array of ethnic perspectives on growing up in America. Leading the reader into the living-rooms, boardrooms, classrooms, and movie houses of America, distinguished writers from all points of the American ethnic landscape shed light on the space between conformity and difference, and examine the struggle between the need to belong and the pull of one's cultural roots. With insight, wit, and poignancy, the contributors to this anthology recall their attempts to reconcile family from the old country with the powerful messages about race, gender and class confronting them in their new surroundings. A collection of superb and moving writing, Identity Lessons deconstructs conceptions of personal and national identity, and forms an indispensable primer for understanding our cultural selves.
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About the author

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is the director of The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, New Jersey. She is the author of five collections of poetry.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
Feb 1, 1999
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Pages
400
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ISBN
9781101144176
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Collections / Essays
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Minority Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Growing Up Ethnic examines the presence of literary similarities between African American and Jewish American coming-of-age stories in the first half of the twentieth century; often these similarities exceed what could be explained by sociohistorical correspondences alone. Martin Japtok argues that these similarities result from the way both African American and Jewish American authors have conceptualized their "ethnic situation." The issue of "race" and its social repercussions certainly defy any easy comparisons. However, the fact that the ethnic situations are far from identical in the case of these two groups only highlights the striking thematic correspondences in how a number of African American and Jewish American coming-of-age stories construct ethnicity. Japtok studies three pairs of novels--James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and Samuel Ornitz's Haunch, Paunch and Jowl, Jessie Fauset's Plum Bun and Edna Ferber's Fanny Herself, and Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones and Anzia Yezierska's Bread Giver--and argues that the similarities can be explained with reference to mainly two factors, ultimately intertwined: cultural nationalism and the Bildungsroman genre. Growing Up Ethnic shows that the parallel configurations in the novels, which often see ethnicity in terms of spirituality, as inherent artistic ability, and as communal responsibility, are rooted in nationalist ideology. However, due to the authors' generic choice--the Bildungsroman--the tendency to view ethnicity through the rhetorical lens of communalism and spiritual essence runs head-on into the individualist assumptions of the protagonist-centered Bildungsroman. The negotiations between these ideological counterpoints characterize the novels and reflect and refract the intellectual ferment of their time. This fresh look at ethnic American literatures in the context of cultural nationalism and the Bildungsroman will be of great interest to students and scholars of literary and race studies.
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